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What is the Kentucky Oaks?

The biggest day at Churchill Downs every year is the first Saturday in May. But the day before has plenty of traditions as well for horse racing fans.

Apr 28, 2021; Louisville, Kentucky, USA; An exercise rider works Kentucky Oaks entry Millefuille at Churchill Downs. Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

You’re likely familiar with the Kentucky Derby; the first leg of the Triple Crown and the most famous horse race in America. But the day before is often just as big a deal to the residents of Louisville, and horse racing fans across the world. The Kentucky Oaks runs just 24 hours before the Derby, and is its own special tradition to those that love parimutuel ponies, particularly in the thoroughbred-loving city of Louisville.

Here’s a few things to know about The Oaks, which in 2021 will be the 11th race on Friday’s card from Churchill Downs.

* It’s a Grade I stakes race, with $1.25 million added to the prize pool. All entrants are three-year-old fillies, and the race generally draws the best female horses in the sport.

* You’ll likely see at least 100,000 fans in the stands in a normal year, but the attendance with COVID-19 will be much less as the nation begins to recover from the pandemic. About 45,000 tickets are available for sale for both Oaks Day and Derby Day in 2021.

* Because a major portion of the race is centered around women’s health issues and the fight against breast and ovarian cancer, pink is the color of choice on Oaks Day. You’ll see both men and women decked out in pink suits, ties, shoes, hats, dresses, purses, and belts. If it’s pink, it’ll be there.

* Normally there’s also a Survivors Parade that takes place on the track for women that have beaten back these diseases, but this year that event will be held virtually due to social distancing regulations.

* The Derby is of course famous for their bourbon-based mint juleps, but the Oaks Lily is the official drink for Friday’s action. Vodka, sweet and sour mix, triple sec, and cranberry juice make a lovely pink concoction.

* While this race is for female horses, three times the winner of the Derby has been a filly: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988. A total of 40 fillies have run in the Derby, but none since Devil May Care in 2010.

* Because of the Kentucky Derby points qualifying system established in 2013, it’s unlikely we’ll see a filly anytime soon back in the Derby. To qualify for Saturday, a horse would seriously jeopardize their ability to make the field on Friday because of the races needed to earn enough points.

* Here’s all the info you need on the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, including post positions and morning line odds for the 14-horse field on Friday, April 30th.